A transpersonal approach to development
My enquiry into spiritual life began – in this life at least – with the question of why there was so much suffering. My quest led me to want to become a healer in the belief that a healer could help people by removing their suffering. So I did the whole Reiki thing, became a Reiki “Master”, treated a few people and did some attunements. The feedback I received was positive but Reiki failed to satisfy my questions. Following that I became a student of a wise and dedicated spiritual teacher who helped me to work through a great deal of limitation. But eventually that too failed to satisfy the longing I had for truth. Something inside of me kept saying I needed to walk a new path. And so I abandoned external teachers and belief in external deities in favour of connecting with whatever wisdom and guidance could come from within.
It took a couple of years for me to stop seeking external sources of guidance and trust the inner guidance, but eventually I found myself ready to embark on a new chapter in the journey. This new chapter would take me away from the old notions of individuality and personal development into a new field of transpersonal and impersonal development.
Much of my own spiritual practice in the past was based on a belief in individual, personal and spiritual development. Beneath the ego, I believed, there exists a deeper Self or soul which evolves through successive lifetimes. This belief brought me a great deal of comfort as it was the only way I could make sense of what seemed like an extremely mad world. If what we achieve in this life in terms of personal or spiritual development is carried over into the next life, then life is given a true sense of meaning and purpose.
But as life’s challenges continued to come thick and fast, this belief, along with many others, no longer seemed to serve me all of the time. As I connected with other people involved with spiritual teaching and spiritual guidance it became clear that some of us at least, if not everyone, were being challenged to let go of the old ways and find new approaches to life and spiritual development.
Central to the concept of the enduring Self – the deeper Self or soul which evolves through successive lifetimes – is the idea of embodiment. Instead of simply being a channel for certain spiritual qualities, the challenge of embodiment is to anchor these qualities into the physical body so they become part of our physical expression. But as the physical body does not survive the transition of death, in order for these qualities to be meaningful to the enduring Self, it would be necessary for the attainment of these qualities to be registered somehow within the soul. In other words, if you successfully master one aspect of so-called spiritual development in one life, this attainment would be carried over in some manner into your next life, thus giving you the benefits in one life of any attainments from previous incarnations. To put it another way, simply channelling a quality does not equate to any personal or individual attainment, whereas the embodiment of a quality does. For as long as I can remember I have intuitively felt this to be true as it seems to neatly explain why it is that people are so different from one another and why members of the same species can have such a broad range of abilities. Whether this is actually what happens or whether this is simply the expression of fantasy or self-importance we don’t know for sure.
The difficulty I began to face was that this concept of the enduring Self which evolves through successive lifetimes seemed to be slightly at odds with the new guidance that was coming from within. As some kind of communication tried to birth within me, what it appeared to be saying was coming from a different perspective.
If we study Advaita Vedanta, Self-realisation and the teachings of people like Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi, we connect with an approach to spirituality which is non-personal. The emphasis, instead of being on developing the individual self or soul was on realising the true Self which is entirely transpersonal. Now the concept of realisation is similar to that of embodiment – we could say that to realise the Self is to embody the consciousness of the Self. When we wake up each morning, in order for us to see the world around us as the Self and not as something separate, the consciousness of the Self must be adequately anchored into the physical body.
So in the concept of embodiment there is a link between, what for me, were the old and new approaches. We still have to flush out the mental, emotional and physical density which does not serve our truest expression, but we no longer look at this density in personal terms. Instead of thinking that “my anger issues are coming up” what takes its place is the viewpoint that “there is the experience of anger.” Anger arises, we acknowledge it and ask what it has to teach us, look to see how it came to be, help it to be released, all without becoming attached to it or identified with it.
With the transpersonal approach we need to get fired up enough to tackle the challenges ahead without being motivated by personal ambition or desire. We need to be enthusiastic about engaging in action without forming attachments to any specific outcomes which may result. In so doing we step into a world of enthusiasm and empowerment without desire, attachment or identification.
Now as we look beyond the concept of individual personal empowerment, we find something greater which is collective empowerment. We no longer need to think in terms of “am I empowered?” or “I need to be empowered”. Instead we just need to ask if empowerment can be present.
This new way which is birthing is giving rise to a whole new era of possibility. If empowerment is required we no longer have to rely on the ability of the individual to be empowered – instead the collective transpersonal empowerment can manifest through anyone at any time.
Many people believe that we are currently living in a time of great change. But this could probably be said of many eras throughout history. The potential to change is ever-present and relies mostly on our willingness to change and the courage to follow through with it.
Sometimes it can seem as though change is being forced upon us. We can be going about our business, as we have for many years, when our life begins to break down. Slowly but surely we can find that the old ways of doing things no longer seem to work. At times it can feel as though, if we do have a purpose in life, we are the last to know about it. At times like this we can ask for help in a variety of ways and seemingly receive no help at all.
As quite often happens on the spiritual path, the old ways have to be destroyed before the new ones can come online. We know that we can no longer carry on as we were, but as yet we have no idea what the future might hold. This pause in between the old and the new can be seen as a test of faith or it can be seen as making space for a new life to be born into.
Changes like this are quite often accompanied by physical pain or mental anguish. In a desperate attempt to make sense of our lives and regain some sense of control we continue to “act out old scripts” and try to go back to ways of living which always worked before. But when a new truth is birthing through us, holding on to those old ways of doing things serves only to create more conflict within us.
It is often said that healing is painful and that the pain has to get worse before it gets better. But often the pain is caused not by the change of direction in our life, but by the resistance to it. Not knowing what is happening to us, we begin to experience fear, try to cling to the past, and in so doing create a battleground within our minds and bodies. It’s like a rollercoaster ride: if you’re scared and you hang on for dear life you will only experience joy when it is all over; yet if you can relax and surrender to the experience, you will enjoy the ride so much more.
It is useful to be aware that, when we get in touch with our inner truth, anything of an opposite vibration will start to be flushed out. In other words, when our inner truth starts to reveal itself, anything which related to the falsehood and ignorance of our previous life will come out. This means that all manner of unpleasant emotions and old limiting beliefs come to the surface of our consciousness, waiting to be released. But as they float to the surface we tend to become attached to them and don’t want to let them go. Releasing these old tendencies can seem very difficult because we sense a kind of gravitational or magnetic attraction to them. Even when we can see that these old ways no longer serve us, actually finding the courage to let go of them can take some doing.
Some people find that whenever they try to go back to the old ways they experience pain in the body. In the absence of knowledge of what is happening, this can seem like some external force is trying to push them onto a new path by giving them a whack every time they stray from it. But if we can see that it is none other than our inner truth which is birthing through us and that the pain is caused by our resistance to moving on and our stubborn attempts to hold on, we can begin to see the pain in a whole new light.
Pain can be a great teacher and a great motivator. I still like to believe that it is the teacher of last resort and that pain only comes into our lives if we have failed to learn the relevant lessons when they were presented to us in less painful ways. Yet many people will say that they would gladly have changed direction or learned a lesson if only they were aware of what the lesson was and what they were supposed to be doing. The fact that there is no handbook or manual for life on earth can be a source of great indignation and annoyance, which is why, when we think we have figured something out and worked out what life seems to be about, we try to share that knowledge with others in the hope that wisdom will replace ignorance.
Becoming completely stopped in your tracks because you didn’t get the message about how your life was meant to change (or because you did get the message but decide to pretend it wasn’t happening), is no fun, and it is no wonder that many people experience some kind of breakdown before they experience a breakthrough.
*** This chapter is taken from my book The Light Within ***